Welcome back to another edition of ‘Long Weekends in Europe’, our miniseries covering the best places that you and your family can visit for a short trip in the beautiful continent of Europe.
Last time around we took you to the Basque Country in Spain, and this week we’re hopping across to Italy and the gorgeous region of Tuscany. The region is renowned for its cultural heritage, being home to a plethora of iconic art and architecture, including Michelangelo’s David. There is far more to this wonderful region than galleries and old buildings though, and we’ll be endeavouring to show you just some of this today.
Where should I stay?
There are plenty of great places to stay in Tuscany, with the most obvious being Florence. This great city is famous for its cultural heritage and is a brilliant place to explore when you have a little more time on your hands. For a shorter trip though, you’re far better served venturing into the Tuscan countryside, to one of the wide range of towns and villages that are scattered across the region.
Arguably the most beautiful of these is the hilltop town of Montepulciano. The town centre dates back to the 14th century and is home to some fabulous architecture, including the famous Torre di Pulcinella clock tower. The hilltop position of the town also makes it the perfect vantage point for seeing the sights of the surrounding area.
If wine is your tipple of choice, then that’s all the more reason Montepulciano is the ideal place for you. The town is surrounded by some of the finest vineyards that Italy has to offer, producing primarily red wine that is sold around the world. Next time you head to the supermarket, see if you can spot some Montepulciano wine on the shelves.
What is there for families to do?
There are plenty of things to do for families in Tuscany, besides traipsing around museums and galleries, and many of them aren’t the same old activities as you may find elsewhere.
One of the most enjoyable things you can do here is to go for a ride on the Funicolare di Montecatini Terme. Found in the small town of Montecatini Terme, about an hour west of Florence, this attraction is a funicular railway which has been taking people up to the village of Montecatini Alto since 1898, the like of which is rarely found outside of mainland Europe these days. There’s no better way to take in Tuscany’s picturesque vista.
If you’re going to be travelling with younger children, there is less to do in Tuscany than with older children. That said, there is still the fantastic Acqua Park near Livorno to enjoy. This large waterpark is filled to the brim with exhilarating waterslides, pools and showers that are sure to thrill the whole family.
If thrills and spills aren’t your family’s thing, the Museo Galileo might be for you. Along with its hands-on celebration of Galileo, the ‘father’ of astronomy and modern science, children are encouraged to explore their scientific side by conducting experiments and reading about scientific discoveries throughout history.
As you would expect from anywhere in Italy, Tuscany is a food lover’s paradise. The region is home to plenty of great Italian dishes, including pasta, meat and soups. For us, the most important thing to try whenever you visit Italy is the pasta, and Tuscany has its own special kind of which they are known for.
A Tuscan pasta specialty is pappardelle, which is a long, broad and flat style of pasta usually partnered with some sort of rich meat-based sauce. For a truly Tuscan dish, the best sauce to have with pappardelle is the locally sourced venison ragù which has a punchy flavour and can be partnered with a local red wine.
Speaking of dishes to pair with wine, Tuscany is also known for its special way of serving steak called Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which goes very well with a deep red Chianti. Traditionally, the steak is cooked on the bone on the embers of the grill, giving it a charred colour on the outside while remaining succulent inside. Very few ingredients are used in the cooking, designed simply to augment the meat’s natural flavour, and it’s typically served with a minimal side dish like cannellini beans or a salad. This is all about the steak, and it’s a big one at that!
Cycling in Tuscany
There’s a wealth of cycling history in the area, but in the past few decades there has been a real boom of cycling interest in Tuscany, with more locals taking up the sport and large numbers of both tourists and professionals flocking to their region. There is one major draw that has attracted the cycling world to Tuscany, and that’s gravel.
The region’s biggest race is Strade Bianche which takes place in the early part of the Classics season, ending with its iconic finish in Siena’s Piazza del Campo. It features many of Tuscany’s white gravel roads – hence the name – and is often one of the most spectacular and unpredictable events of the year, prompting many to consider it the unofficial sixth Monument of professional cycling.
Strade Bianche has shot to fame in a relatively short period – this year was just its 16th edition – and is now a firm favourite in the UCI WorldTour calendar. If you’re tempted to go and witness both the men’s and women’s Strade Bianche next season, we recommend it wholeheartedly.
Perhaps you could hop on your gravel bike and take on the white roads yourself?
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When should I visit Tuscany?
Like many places in Europe, there isn’t really a bad time to visit Tuscany, but there are certainly better times than others. You might be surprised to hear that one great time is in the early part of the year, namely in February, as the Carnival di Viareggio takes place during this month.
The festival has been an annual tradition in the city of Viareggio since 1873, headlined by a parade of colourful floats that are often designed to resemble popular characters from film and television, as well as other prominent figures. The parade is an opportunity to let go of everyday life for the Italians, with people coming from all over the country just to see the carnival. In 2023, it will take place across six days in February with the final show featuring an impressive pyrotechnic display.
As for the rest of the year, what better time to visit than when there’s a bike race on? As we mentioned earlier, the biggest of these races is Strade Bianche and the 2023 edition of this great race is set to be held on the weekend of 4-5th March.
Tuscany is actually really easy to get to from the United Kingdom thanks to the region’s wealth of international airports, including in Pisa and Florence. Some discount airlines often sell cheap flights airports across the UK, so always keep an eye out for travel sales.
It’s also possible to drive to Tuscany, which may sound like the perfect plan but it’s not to be taken lightly. The scenery is sure to be spectacular in places, especially towards the end once you’ve reached the Alps, however you’ll probably need to set aside two days to make the trip – all very well if you’re going for longer and/or want to take your own bike without the stress of flying, but you’ll need a great deal of patience!
Now you’ve had a taste of what a short holiday in Tuscany could look like, it’s time to start planning that trip. Whether it’s for cycling purposes or simply a family getaway, we’re sure you’ll love your long weekend in Tuscany. You can buy short term or annual cycle travel insurance cover for your trip here. Alternatively, give our customer service team a call and they’ll help.